Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What if Audio were like Video

In several ways I am grateful that audio has moved in a different way since the 1960's than video.  I credit the subjectivist audio movement, pioneered by the likes of J Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson, for getting audio off the corporatist objectivist track.

Now, mind you, there was much more progress possible in video than audio.  I'm not questioning that.  The video displays of the 1960's were pathetic compared to what we have now.  (Though not perhaps so much as people imagine at the high end.  Professional video displays of the 1960's were beautiful, and by the early 1990's they were glorious.)

Nor am I questioning that most subjectivist advice is pure crap.

But when the corporatists take over as they have in video, here's how things go:

1) Endless planned obsolescence.  Just as with computers and smart phones, the moment you buy anything it is already obsolete.  Endless upgrades are not only made desirable, they become mandatory.  If you haven't upgraded every 2 years you are way behind.

2) Facts are marshaled to show how much things are better, even when actually they aren't better at all.

3) Bigger is always better.  More is always better.  Bombasticity is better than realism.

Now the underlying story is that digital systems and endlessly refined display technologies have made fantastic possibilities in resolution upgrades.  Old Standard Definition video was (quite!) adequate for telling stories, and most of the greatest TV programs ever produced were produced in Standard Definition, now also known as 480i.  Viewed on well performing equipment (which is always rare in consumer grade equipment) those programs still look beautiful and tell stories very well.

Strangely, as soon as higher resolution became possible it became hard to achieve the same quality in story telling.  Resolution itself became the story, and people were wowed by so-called Reality TV with little story or human meaning behind it.

Now it becomes clear, just as the cynics said, we don't actually "need" resolution as high as is now possible.  Diminishing returns set in quickly as you go above 480i.  1080i is really, truly, about as good as we'll ever need for frontal displays, but now resolution has become the game and we're up to 4k displays with no end in sight.  1080p is gravy.

We also don't "need" wall sized displays in most cases.  Especially if we don't have mega mansion homes.  If we are living in smaller homes, less than 2000 sq ft, as most people should be since larger than that is wasteful, there simply isn't enough space for super large displays in most if not all rooms.

That is one of the things I find especially frustrating--that if you buy anything less than a 55 inch monitor you are assumed to be fine with second class.  Not just in the endlessly ballyhooed but relatively unimportant "resolution" game.  But in the far more important blackness level and color accuracy game.

In that game, btw, we are still behind the best CRT's of the 1990's and 2000's, including my ultimate Top of the Line Sony 34XBR960, the best consumer CRT television ever made.  LED color gamuts have been limited, they were ridiculously limited at first, even now with quantum dot technology they are only catching up.  But even that doesn't matter if the display can't render true black.  True black is the secret behind truly saturated colors.  If you can't do true black, you really aren't there.  And ordinary LED's, even after 15 years up you-must-get-this upgrades, still aren't.

Only one kind of LED can potentially get there, and that is OLED.  I'm glad to see that LG is pushing OLED technology onto large screens with 55" and 65" displays.  But what about for us people who can't deal with a display larger than 40" ???

Sadly, my 34XBR960, which does 480i to 1080i native scanning, so you can watch SD to HD without artifacts, failed on Monday and I hope to get it fixed.  (One tech said, you can buy a new 32" TV for $200 so why worry?)

This TV sits about 5 feet from where I sit at the kitchen table, giving the equivalent of a much larger display at 10 feet.  40 inches is about all the display I could possibly fit in between the speakers, which are already beginning to encroach on essential living space.

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